The Feast of the Annunciation
Greek Independence Day
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this blessed Feast of the Annunciation, which comes to us in the midst of the Holy Lenten season, we are given the opportunity to celebrate a beautiful and spiritually significant event in the history of salvation. We commemorate the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, his announcement of the Incarnation of the Son of God, her acceptance of the divine will to be the "God-bearer," and the conception of the Savior as an expression of the love of God for humankind. We celebrate this Feast in joy and thanksgiving, for it was at this moment in time when God entered into our humanity through the Virgin Mary.
In this miraculous event God bestowed a unique and timeless blessing upon the Virgin Mary. She had "found favor with God", and she was chosen to be the mother of the "Son of the Most High whose kingdom shall have no end" (Luke 1:30,33). It is evident from the Gospel account of the Annunciation, though, that God's choice was dependent upon another choice, that of the Virgin. When presented with the words of the angelic messenger, she had to choose to accept the divine will and to be a willing participant in the Incarnation. This she did by replying, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to Your word" (1:38). This choice was made possible by her purity of heart and mind. Because of her deep love for God, her knowledge of His commandments, and her holiness of life, the Virgin Mary was able to recognize the message of truth conveyed by the Archangel and to commit her life to the fulfillment of such a wondrous message expressing the will of God. As a result, the words of the Archangel to the Virgin, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, also, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35), became a reality.
The event of the Annunciation and the choice made by the Theotokos serve as an example to each and every one of us, as we are challenged daily to choose the will of God for our lives. Certainly, our choices are not of the nature nor the magnitude of the one that was offered to the Virgin Mary through divine revelation. However, her holiness of life and her recognition of truth serve as a model that we should strive to emulate. During this time of Holy and Great Lent and throughout all of our lives, we should labor for purity of heart and mind through prayer, worship, fasting and complete dedication to God, so that we might know His will and be prepared, as the Theotokos was, to consent to it. What great blessings and deeds might God accomplish in and through our lives; what transformations might occur in our homes, families, parishes, and in the world if we are willing to serve when God calls, if we are ready to obey His Holy will!
Assuredly, the magnitude of the choice and faith of the Theotokos was in the hearts of the many courageous people of Greece in 1821, when they engaged in the struggle that would give them their independence from Ottoman rule. It is fitting that the beginning of this struggle and our celebration of Greek Independence Day should complement this great Feast of our Holy Orthodox Church. For Hellenes who had endured centuries of occupation and had experienced physical, spiritual, intellectual, economic, and social oppression, their struggle was a choice founded upon a desire for liberty, the recognition of human dignity, and the conditions for securing the well-being of future generations. They knew that all of these ideals, together with the freedom to share and proclaim their faith openly, were in keeping with the divine will. Thus, inspired by the sacrifices of so many who had suffered, the people of Greece, strengthened by their faith in God, made a choice that affirmed their heritage and their destiny, and granted them freedom.
As we commemorate both the Feast of the Annunciation and the Day of Greek Independence, we are led by the examples of the Theotokos and our forefathers to contemplate our commitment to the will of God and our preparedness to choose His will. In a world filled with choices, we are challenged to adhere to what is holy and upholds life, to discern what is truth and what is worthy of our commitment. Even in the most difficult circumstances of life, we can be assured that through prayer and purity of heart and mind we will know the will of God, and that we will be able to choose what is true, enduring, and leads to salvation.
May the strength of our Lord, through the intercessions of His Holy Mother and Theotokos, be with each of us in the remainder of the Lenten journey as we strive to purify our hearts and minds, and as we make ourselves more and more ready to conform to the holy will of God.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America